‘I Grew Here Both as a Person and Professional’

July 25, 2022

2021 Agriculture Alumna Enters Second Year of Vet School on Full-Ride Scholarship

Sarah Gigandet recalls sharing her “hopes and dreams” of attending veterinary school with the late agriculture professor, Harold Thirey, early in her experience at Wilmington College. Over his 43 years on WC’s faculty, numerous other students told Thirey of similar interests, which put into motion his sharing the “Vet Student Packet.”

PICTURED: Sarah Gigandet is pictured with cattle and a goat on the WC Academic Farm while visiting campus this summer.

“Harold truly cared and believed I could do it,” said Gigandet, a 2021 WC graduate from Versailles who is attending The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “He explained how to have a competitive application to vet school.”

While Thirey unexpectedly died midway through her senior year, his influence continues to this day. “Harold and my other professors and adviser at WC were a big part of my support system,” she added. “They encouraged me to do more than I ever expected to do.”

As a high school student involved with FFA, Gigandet knew she wanted to be part of the greater agriculture industry. She grew up in the country with two dogs, milked cows at a local farm and baled hay for her cousins, WC alumni Steven ’05 and Shannon Borke ’07 Langston — so Wilmington College was on her radar for some time.

“When I came to visit, I loved the College right away,” she said, noting she appreciated the close relationship with the faculty, which was similar to what she enjoyed with her high school teachers. “I don’t know how I would have done in a 300-student lecture classroom at a big university. Also, I feel like I wouldn’t have gotten out of my shell if I didn’t have the opportunities I had here at Wilmington College.”

WC is known for offering hands-on learning and opportunities for leadership development.

Gigandet, who completed an internship with a veterinarian in Hillsboro while attending WC, participated in two trips to Washington, D.C., where agricultural students learned advocacy techniques before actually lobbying elected officials. As an animal science major and member of the Aggies, she worked on the annual Livestock Judging Contests, which each year attract more than 1,000 high school students.

She served as president and secretary of the agriculture honorary, Delta Tau Alpha, and joined Sigma Alpha sorority, which had “some really good people who pushed me to strive for more — they knew I was ready for leadership positions before I knew!” Gigandet also was president of the Veterinarians of Tomorrow Club and even joined the equestrian team “on a whim,” even though she had only ridden a horse a half dozen times before coming to college. “I wanted to learn a new skill, a good life skill.”

At WC, where there’s a will, there’s a way. “I did more at Wilmington than I ever expected to do,” she added. Gigandet graduated in May 2021 with a major in agriculture/animal science and minors in biology and chemistry.

She recalled an instance when she struggled on the first exam in a biology course. That challenge became an opportunity as it represented something she hadn’t really experienced before. Indeed, it turned into a life lesson that ultimately served her well. She worked with her professor in accessing a tutor and adjusting her studying mode. “I was always one who got good grades, but this class helped me learn from my failures — I learned how to push myself harder.”

That’s been an essential skill for Gigandet in veterinary school. “It’s challenging and I have to work hard for my grades, but I’ve learned a lot. I feel Wilmington College has prepared me well for how challenging vet school has been for me,” she said.

During this past year at OSU, which she completed in May, Gigandet attended a meeting with a U.S. Army recruiter who shared information about a special military scholarship for high achieving students in varying aspects of medicine. She engaged in a “competitive and intense process” and was awarded one of only 33 scholarships issued across the nation in all areas of health professions. The award will pay her tuition and provide a stipend and health insurance benefits — along with “the pride of serving your country” — for her final three years of vet school.

Gigandet will enter as a second lieutenant in the Army Reserve and attend Officer Basic Leadership Training. Upon her graduation and passing the veterinary board exam, she will commission as a captain as she embarks upon a minimum of three years active duty. The Army will place Gigandet wherever she is needed to provide veterinary care to military dogs and/or horses from ceremonial cavalry units.

“I always had an interest in joining the military,” she added, noting that, while she committed to three years in the Army, many who’ve earned the scholarship end up completing the full career 20 years of military service.

Gigandet is part of a cohort of 163 veterinary students at OSU. She spent much of this summer engaged in externships, first at a small animal clinic in Texas and then with a mixed animal practice in Oklahoma. “I’ve tried to soak up as much as I could from these experiences,” she said.

Pending her length of military service, Gigandet hopes ultimately to practice veterinary medicine at a mixed animal clinic, ideally working with cattle. “I like the idea of helping the food chain and staying in agriculture assisting farmers,” she added.

In mid-June, Gigandet attended the WC Agriculture Department’s 75th Anniversary Jubilee and enjoyed seeing many of her former classmates and faculty members. One of the latter included Dr. Chad McKay, associate professor of agriculture, who was impressed with learning about Gigandet’s successful first year and Army scholarship. McKay described “the best part” of his job as seeing his students graduate and fulfill their dreams and aspirations.

“Through Sarah’s experiences at Wilmington College and now vet school, she takes every experience as a good experience,” he said. “She has learned the art of being comfortable while being uncomfortable. Sarah’s willing to go outside her comfort zones. She has a positive attitude — and that’s always going to be in her favor.”

With Thirey’s untimely passing in early 2021, Gigandet was among the last students with whom he shared his “Vet Student Packet,” a valuable resource that helped Gigandet navigate the admission process. In tribute to her former mentor and alma mater, she has updated and supplemented Thirey’s packet to continue one of his legacies for future WC students entering a pre-veterinary medicine course of study.

“I’m glad I’m able to help the next generation of pre-vet students after Harold did for so many years,” she added. “I had a very good experience and never regretted choosing Wilmington,” she said. “I enjoyed the small and close-knit campus and still regularly talk with friends I made at WC. I grew here both as a person and professional.”